Am I Next? Layoffs at B&H Photo in New York

One of my favorite sources for camera and electronic equipment, B&H photo in New York is preparing to lay off approximately 375 workers at its New York location as they transition to a facility in New Jersey. 

As crazy as it sounds, the United Steelworkers union has been bargaining with B&H for the past year and has filed an NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) complaint that the company never mentioned that they were scouting for a facility outside of New York. B&H said that their lease was expiring and they could not locate a suitable facility in New York. 

The union cast the company in the worst possible light.

“USW District 4 Director John Shinn questioned the credibility of B&H management’s claim that it could not find a suitable alternative location in the New York City area. ‘Moving to South New Jersey will make it difficult, and certainly a challenge, for employees currently relying on public transportation to accept employment offers at the new site,’ Shinn said. ‘This is clearly an illegal tactic designed to avoid the company’s obligation to bargain in good faith.’ Shinn said that B&H warehouse employees chose USW representation in spite of management’s threats to fire employees who voted for the union and will continue to fight for their right to bargain collectively. ‘As a union, we know that as long as we stay united, our solidarity will prevail against the challenges before us,” Shinn said. “In addition to our legal filings, we will reach out to elected officials and community leaders to ensure B&H warehouse workers receive a fair opportunity for their voices to be heard on the job and at the bargaining table.’”  <Union Media Release>  

The company prevails.

"B&H today announced that on July 24th, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) dismissed allegations that B&H was moving its Brooklyn warehouses to New Jersey to avoid the union that represents its warehouse employees."

"The NLRB decision affirms B&H’s position that the plans for the move began years before employees voted to join a union; that the lease for B&H’s Navy Yard facility expires in early 2018 without a renewal option; that the Navy Yard previously assigned rights to the B&H space to Steiner Studios upon lease expiration; and that the move to New Jersey is part of a long-held plan to modernize its fulfillment center in a large, single facility to better serve customers and compete more effectively in the global economy."

“'We appreciate the fact that a neutral arbiter looked at the facts and made clear that we are making this move for exactly the reasons we stated,' Jacob Mittelman, VP of Operations, said. 'The facts are clear for all to see, and we hope this resolves the misleading concerns some groups have raised.'”

B&H has been the target of a misleading campaign by several so-called labor advocacy groups alleging that the warehouse moves are part of a scheme to avoid bargaining with the union. B&H is gratified that the NLRB has rejected these claims that B&H believes are untrue and solely aimed at damaging our reputation. <B&H Media Release>

One might wonder why the union did not work with the company, but then again, unions are about seniority over merit, increasing wages with little or no increase in productivity, and anti-automation. I recommend that you read the company’s unique history as it is a testament to hard work and shrewd dealing. 


Am I Next? WARN ACT - Advance Notice of Closures and Layoffs

Both federal labor laws require an employer to file a publicly available advance notice if they are anticipating mass (50 or above) mass layoffs. And, many states have incorporated these rules and regulations into state labor laws.

WARNing ...

"The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) protects workers, their families, and communities by requiring employers with 100 or more employees (generally not counting those who have worked less than six months in the last 12 months and those who work an average of less than 20 hours a week) to provide at least 60 calendar days advance written notice of a plant closing and mass layoff affecting 50 or more employees at a single site of employment."

"Advance notice gives workers and their families some transition time to adjust to the prospective loss of employment, to seek and obtain other jobs, and if necessary, to enter skill training or retraining that will allow these workers to compete successfully in the job market. Regular federal, state, local, and federally-recognized Indian Tribal government entities that provide public services are not covered."

"Employees entitled to notice under WARN include managers and supervisors, as well as hourly and salaried workers. WARN requires that notice also be given to employees' representatives, the local chief elected official, and the state dislocated worker unit."

"DOL's Employment and Training Administration (ETA) administers WARN but has no enforcement role in seeking damages for workers who did not receive adequate notice of a layoff or received no notice at all. Some states have plant closure laws of their own. Employers considering a layoff can contact the State Dislocated Worker Unit to find out more information on notice requirements in their state."

Of course, there are exceptions:

"There are three exceptions to the full 60-day notice requirement. However, in all cases, notice must be provided as soon as it is practicable. When notice is given in less than the 60-day timeframe, the employer must include a statement of the reason for providing less than 60 days’ notice in addition to fulfilling the other information notice requirements. The exceptions to providing the full 60-day notice are as follows:

• A "faltering company" is not required to give notice of a layoff or plant closing when, before the plant closing, it is actively seeking capital or business, which if obtained would avoid or postpone the layoff or closure, and if it reasonably believes that advance notice would hurt its ability to find the capital or business it needs to continue operating;

• A business is not required to give a full 60-day’s notice if it could not reasonably foresee business circumstances that led to a layoff or closing at the time that the 60-day notice would have been required, (e.g., a business circumstance that is caused by some sudden, dramatic, and unexpected action or conditions outside the employer’s control like the unexpected cancellation of a major order); or

• A business is not required to give notice if a layoff or plant closing is the direct result of a natural disaster (i.e., hurricane, flood, earthquake, tornado, storm, drought, or similar effect of nature)."

Some useful references:

Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act Guide to Advance Notice of Closings and Layoffs  

As with all things, forewarned is forearmed.